SKorea says 'zero tolerance' for violent protests
SEOUL, Nov 24: South Korean authorities will clamp down on violent protests after buildings were damaged and police injured during rallies this week by unions and farm activists against a free trade deal, officials said today.
''There will no longer be any tolerance of illegal and violent protests,'' five cabinet officials, including the justice and agriculture ministers, said in a joint statement.
Tens of thousands of union workers and activists staged a nationwide strike on Wednesday. Although most of their rallies ended without incident, a few were marred by protesters hurling fire bombs and smashing windows at government buildings.
The rallies caused nearly 1 million dollars in property damage and resulted in injuries to 63 protesters and 35 police officers, Yonhap news cited police as saying.
The statement said those who take part in illegal action as well as organisers will be sought out and punished.
South Korean farmers and unionists have a history of violent protests that have resulted in deaths.
But public support for large-scale rallies and strikes has waned in South Korea, with many seeing them as causing harm to the economy through decreased productivity and hurting the country's image overseas.
Major unions and activists are planning protests over the next several days to oppose current labour laws and a bilateral free trade deal being negotiated between South Korea and the United States.
South Korean and U.S. negotiators meet for a new round of free trade talks in Montana in December.